by Paul Johnston, Democratic Independent and Green group Councillor and waste campaigner.
If you ever want to know how councils waste millions of pounds of money, you cannot do better than to look at the decision made by Aberdeenshire Council last Thursday 30 June 2016, when Councillors agreed, despite warnings, to opt to burn residual waste and effectively ‘burn money’ in wasting multiple £ millions on a possible incinerator.
Councillors were told of the waste hierarchy. Lowest, said officials, was landfill and that to avoid the lowest level of the waste hierarchy, Councillors should opt for ‘recovery’ Sounds good? Well recovery very largely means incineration, when all is said and done.
Councillors however were warned that all the trend from the Scottish Government up to European level, now equate incineration with the lowest level of the hierarchy.
Here is what the European Commission say:
“The European Union’s approach to waste management is based on the “waste hierarchy” which sets the following priority order when shaping waste policy and managing waste at the operational level: prevention, (preparing for) reuse, recycling, recovery and, as the least preferred option, disposal (which includes landfilling and incineration without energy recovery).
Already incineration is not an option without energy recovery.
This seems to make it clear that energy recovery from burning municipal waste is still acceptable.
But what one can easily miss the next section outlining the environment action program which is the priority objectives for waste policy in the EU and Scotland.
There amongst the five objectives sits the stark phrase:
” to limit incineration to non recyclable materials”
All wood, paper, card and plant based materials that end up in your bin are recyclable. The vast bulk of plastics are recyclable. All textiles, leather, carpets, coverings are recyclable. Metals are recyclable. (Japan already recycles 98 percent of all its metals). Most materials that are not currently recyclable are being made so. Most inert materials like brick etc can be used as aggregate.
So what is left to burn or bury?
By far the largest part of what cannot be recycled is clinical waste. And you don’t need a big new shiny incinerator everywhere to do that.
So Councillors have misunderstood the fundamental elements of the waste hierarchy and what it was trying to do. By opting to burn residual waste to avoid landfill, they have narrowed their choice to investing in big technology which is already obsolete. A council trapped into spending money on a process that must be stopped in order to comply with (existing) objectives.
Incineration is expensive investment. If that investment is not made in avoiding incineration now, we will pay substantially more, as late investment will be needed , in order to comply at the last minute with the approaching legal deadlines.
Millions are to be wasted. It will take a little time before you may notice, but remember, you heard it here first.